Marketing is a fun topic that’s not talked about a lot in the accessibility space. Often, marketing teams are focused on the product, the code, and making it accessible. They neglect to think about how to reach people with disabilities with the same vigor that brands use when going after any consumer.
Bryan shares the story of the first instance of his advocacy work. He was trying to get into a specialized school in New York City. He got in based on his test score, but they admitted they don’t have students like him. They asked how will he do things like using the stairs. Bryan was born with cerebral palsy. He has no problems using the stairs. This was 2013, so it was not long ago when segregated schooling was happening.
Marketing professionals need to think about this mentality that people have when they haven’t had people with disabilities in their schools. They think people with disabilities are unemployed and not able to contribute to society, be in relationships, or have kids. Their thinking about disabilities is dated.
Marketing in Accessibility Case Studies
Bryan delves into the practice side by sharing case studies where brands lean into disability and accessibility inclusion.
One example is Nike. They’re an interesting case study because sports have historically not been accessible to people with disabilities. He says that Nike knows they didn’t have it right and they’ve worked to do better. Nike has a mantra that if you have a body, you’re an athlete. Everyone is an athlete in some way.
When Nike featured a runner from a university who happens to have cerebral palsy, people felt like it was inspiration porn. People with disabilities don’t like inspiration porn because they don’t want to be celebrated for living their lives to do things everyone can do. The example Bryan shared does that.
However, Nike handled the situation by saying the video wasn’t official collateral. They followed up by indicating they wanted to work with the disability community. They worked with the athlete to create a video that he could be proud of. A few years later, Nike came out with the Fly-Ease. It’s a shoe that allows people with dexterity disabilities to be able to put on the shoe.
The product was inspired by someone with a disability. They wrote to Nike saying they loved their shoes but couldn’t wear them and explained why. Nike created the adaptive shoe for them and featured them as co-designer. The company worked with disabled athletes and integrated disabilities into their marketing activities.
Netflix: Crip Camp
Crip Camp is one of the first major films that Netflix released on their platform that focused exclusively on disabilities. Instead of having their marketing team promote Crip Camp, they partnered with Andraéa LaVant’s consulting company. She’s the founder who identifies as a proud Black, disabled woman.
One of the campaigns they did was offer online training conducted over a video platform. They ensured the experience was accessible. It featured live captioning and ASL interpreters. They also made it possible to request other accommodations. This let Netflix engage the disability community on different topics, such as grassroots advocacy and how to get PR. Former U.S. President Barack Obama was one of the producers of the video and joined Andraéa in one of the training sessions.
Target Adapatable Clothing Line
Target can’t mass produce their adaptive clothing line as there would not be as large of an audience for it. These have to be ordered online. The initial line had about 20 pieces of clothing. Most people have more than that, so it’s limiting. Additionally, Target targets a price point because they’re in the business of selling affordable items.
Target may not be making a profit from these. In fact, Tommy Hilfiger has an adaptive clothing line that’s sold at a loss. They do this because it’s good business. Bryan saw an example from Uniqlo where someone can select a waist size for jeans and then have it altered for free. Microsoft has partnered with Shapeways, a 3D printing company to print accessible accessories on demand.
What are the economics of doing something like this where the company prints limited quantities. Is it sustainable? Executives may lose interest and then the products lose sponsorship.
How to Drive Accessibility Forward in Marketing
Start by asking your marketing and comms teams what they’re doing to make their work accessible. It’s a great way to open the conversation. The next thing is to use tools like an accessibility checker. Google Suite and Office have accessibility checkers to help you create accessible documents. They’ll remind you to add things like alt text to your pictures.
Most social media platforms allow you to add image descriptions. They also now make it possible to add captioning. They use artificial intelligence for captioning, which isn’t as great as a human captioner. AI captioning is a good place to start. Then, watch the video and ensure the captions are correct or edit the captions. What’s interesting is that a lot of influencers add captions even if they’re not following other accessibility best practices.
You also want to use stock photography that highlights people with disabilities. A few places have open-source stock photography containing people with disabilities. However, be aware that a lot of disabilities aren’t apparent.
One of the best ways to ensure marketing is accessible is to hire people with disabilities to consult or join your company. Ask your agencies to do the same. It’s important to have people with lived experiences be part of the conversation. When you bring in people with disabilities, pay them a fair wage.
Finally, make sure you advocate for people with disabilities to be part of your diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Companies often have a DEI statement but they omit people with disabilities. If you see something like this, speak up and ask the company why it’s not talking about including people with disabilities.
- Google Marketing Toolkit
- Microsoft accessible marketing ebook
- List of disability stock photos from Lainey Feingold
- About Bryan’s background and story
- About Bryan’s career
- Learning from brand case studies
- How to drive accessibility forward in marketing
- Q&A with Bryan Stromer
Bryan Stromer is passionate about telling the stories of brands that make our world a better place.
Born with Cerebral Palsy, Bryan is a passionate advocate for the disability community and founded Microsoft’s Disability in Marketing group. Bryan’s writing and thought leadership has been featured by the Washington Post, NY Times, Adweek, PR Week, and NPR. He has been featured on the Today Show, Forbes, NY1, and the NY Daily News.
After working at Microsoft, Bryan earned his Master’s at Tsinghua University as a Schwarzman Scholar. He led Tsinghua’s first-ever Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) and partnered with brands like Lenovo and Microsoft China.
Bryan has been recognized as a 2019 ADCOLOR FUTURE, a 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 List-maker, 2020 MR. ADCOLOR for his work in advertising and marketing, and the Disability:IN 2019 NextGen Alum of the Year. Bryan currently works in the accessibility space as a Senior Product Manager focused on customer experience at a large technology company.